Winding Up

The depths of the Pacific Ocean makes installing traditional offshore wind turbines difficult. Floating turbines will likely be the technology of choice off the California coast.

Exactly two weeks after the Biden administration approved an offshore wind project in Massachusetts, the first offshore wind project in the United States, Gov. Gavin Newsom met with federal officials to announce California would be joining the party.

Brewing for years, Newsom’s announcement designated 399 square miles of ocean about 30 miles off the coast of Morro Bay as open for offshore wind projects. The area will be auctioned off to developers in three sections and has the potential to power 1.6 million homes, Newsom said.

The announcement offers the state another path to achieve its ambitious goal to run completely on renewable energy by 2045. However, the announcement cleared only one hurdle in a long series of obstacles in the path toward operational offshore wind in California, says Shelly Whitworth of Central Coast Community Energy, or 3CE, the local power alternative focused on procuring clean power.

Whitworth says offshore wind within 3CE’s service area would be the natural choice for the utility; however, she says 3CE would only buy the power if the price is right for its customers.

“We have to negotiate these power purchase agreements so they are priced on behalf of our customers,” Whitworth says. “Where there is a will there is a way, and we want to be part of it.”

3CE has a memorandum of understanding with Castle Wind, a San Francisco-based wind power company that is putting its hat in the ring for a piece of the Morro Bay area. The MOU says 3CE is willing to buy power produced by Castle Wind if the company is selected as a developer for the Morro Bay project.

Castle Wind CEO Alla Weinstein says her company’s proposed project would produce 1 gigawatt of power, enough to power more than 400,000 homes. However, Weinstein says the auction for the territory will be competitive, with 14 developers having already expressed interest.

Weinstein says although Newsom’s announcement jolted the renewable energy industry, she expects a more drawn-out process. The auction will happen in summer of 2022, after which she says it can take up to seven years to go through designs and permitting, then another two or three years of actual construction.

“You’re probably looking at a decade from next year until the electrons from offshore wind units will go into the grid,” she says.

Christopher Neely covers a mixed beat that includes the environment, water politics, and Monterey County's Board of Supervisors. He began at the Weekly in 2021 after five years on the City Hall beat in Austin, TX.

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